Community Gardens in New York City

Dr. Elisabeth Meyer-Renschhausen, a member of our WLOE e.V. German association's executive board and an expert on local initiatives, including communitiy gardens, gave a presentation at the American Community Gardening Association Conference in Los Angeles, August 13-15, 2006.

The growing importance of community gardens in New York City is based on
their social diversity. In many gardens the production of food also plays an
increasing role. In other gardens the community aspect, the action within
the community is at the forefront. Most gardens are however oriented towards
making an active contribution to the beauty and sustainability of the
environment. The main issue for the community gardeners is to increase the
beauty of the city by creating green oases of sustainability in the concrete
urban wasteland, for the well-being of all the citizens.

Most striking is the fact that the activities in the community gardens and
the fight for their preservation against the selling of the land to
investors is creating a new cooperation among the various ehtnic groups in a
way that is quite rare in North America. Therefore the fact that similar
gardens in Germany are called "international" or "intercultural gardens" is
not surprising. The community gardens in New York provide for many of their
local members a form of political education, involvement and participation
that brings new hopes for the USA with its two-class democracy, where today
half of the population refuse to vote.

The diversity of the community gardens is matched by the diversity of the
organisations caring for them and coordinating them. Most of these
organisations were born just as "spontaneously" as grass-roots initiatives
like the community gardens. Seen from Europe, the "incorporation" of two of
these assisting groups by the city administration is stunning. The New York
administration branch "Green Thumb" is an astonishing phenomenon as a
semi-municipal institution with a NGO status, inclusive salaries that still
reflect the unpaid commitment of its founding members. The group "Just Food"
supports the food security of New York's poor with organic foodstuff in a
way that is unthinkable in Western Europe today. The NGO "Added Value"
follows a strongly social-pedagogical perspective and uses gardening in the
community as a means to reintegrate the youth.

The new social movement of community gardening started 30 years ago as an
utopist movement and has developed to an experienced reality. The garden
activists see themselves as a complement to the system. Their aim is not so
much the production of alternatives to "capitalism as a reality" as to find
strategies for those who are as a fact living outside the system: single
mothers, the jobless and other ghetto people. To these belong the "low
budget artists", the "new independent workers" on purpose or not and other
"low-income people".

Surprising is also how a new form of participation in the goals of the
international Agenda 21 grew out of the wish for beauty. Increasing numbers
of community gardeners see their gardens as a practical contribution to the
preservation of the One World in the sense of ecological sustainability.
Community gardeners are exemplary in their readiness to realize a
nutritional turn with their own hands through the cultivation of healthy

Community gardens are therefore no longer utopy, they contribute openly or
not to finding highly urgent solutions to the problems resulting from a
capitalist market economy that leaves more and more open holes within the
system. Community gardens must be recognized as alternatives for the future
in the shrinking cities, being a form of self-help activity of the
marginalized people, "free of charge" for the municipalities.